MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The staff at Tootsie’s bills their 60,000-square-foot adult emporium as the best strip club in the country, and glass-encased trophies backing up the claim greet patrons in the dimly lit lobby.
Aaron Hernandez, a New England Patriots tight end, reportedly spent part of the early morning here Feb. 13 with an acquaintance, Alexander Bradley, as a rotating cast of 50 women gyrated on the mammoth main stage and entertained customers in semi-secluded areas known as the Jungle Room, the Next Level, and Knockers Sports Bar.
By dawn, Bradley lay in a pool of blood, his right eye lost, in a gritty parking space off an industrial alley in Riviera Beach, 65 miles up Interstate 95 to the north.
The gunman, according to a civil complaint filed in US District Court in southern Florida, was Hernandez.
That incident is not known to be linked with the shooting death of Odin Lloyd, a Hernandez acquaintance from Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, whose bullet-riddled body was found Monday near the football player’s home in North Attleborough.
But the two events, separated by four months and 1,400 miles, are raising serious questions about Hernandez, the company he keeps, and the places he went.
“How did they end up here?” asked Paul Bencebi, manager of a printing-material shop in Riviera Beach. That’s where Bradley was discovered bleeding from the temple, curled up in a parking space behind the building about 6:30 a.m.
The site sits close to the frenetic rumbling of I-95, but feels separate and remote, a dense mixture of bland, low-rise manufacturing and commercial buildings.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Bencebi, who had used a hose to wash away the blood. “Why here, unless they were doing something no one wants to see?”
Bencebi pointed to police tape from the crime scene, still protruding from the shop’s dumpster, and shook his head.
“This is why I left New York, but I guess it’s here, too,” Bencebi said. “I mean, the CSI people here were looking for his eye.”
Hernandez has said nothing publicly about the events of Feb. 13. Andrew Waks of Miami, one of two attorneys representing Bradley, declined to answer any questions about his client’s allegations. In an interview at his law office, Waks said the next step in the legal process will be for Hernandez to respond to the complaint within 21 days.
“They were in a car, they were on their way north, and that’s where the incident occurred,” Waks said. Bradley is “badly injured . . . and will need future medical care.”
Waks would not elaborate on the relationship between Hernandez and Bradley, other than to say they “knew each other.” Both men are originally from Connecticut: Hernandez, 23, from Bristol, and Bradley, 30, from East Hartford.
Their journey from Miami Gardens to Riviera Beach, in all likelihood, would have taken them north on I-95, an hour’s drive at normal speeds from the strip club near Miami, past Fort Lauderdale, and finally to Riviera Beach, just beyond West Palm Beach.
The alley where Bradley was found on the asphalt, wrapped in a fetal position, sits just half a mile to the east and a mile north from the closest exit from I-95.
According to the police report, Bradley was shot in the right temple and pleaded with the manager of an adjacent John Deere store who called 911. “Tell them to hurry,” Bradley told the store manager. “I’m gonna bleed out.”
Bradley has undergone multiple surgeries for facial reconstruction, suffers from extreme pain, and is “substantially disabled,” according to the complaint.
Bradley refused to identify his assailant when he was found in Riviera Beach or, later, at a West Palm Beach hospital. But he does in his civil action, blaming Hernandez. On Friday, Waks would not discuss why Bradley decided to name Hernandez in the complaint, which does not specify whether Bradley believes the gunshot was intentional or accidental.
The complaint states that Hernandez and Bradley were part of a group that spent the evening at Tootsie’s, and that the pair argued before they and two others began driving north toward Palm Beach.
The manager of Tootsie’s said he was not aware of the argument, but that the club keeps a large battery of surveillance cameras trained on customers to help keep the peace in an establishment that can hold about 2,000 people.
“There’s never any problems here,” said the manager, who declined to be identified because he is not authorized to speak publicly about club policy or patrons.
“There’s pretty girls, good food, and cheap drinks. It’s hard to beat.”
On Thursday night, as the Miami Heat won the NBA crown, the club reached capacity and shut its doors for about two hours.
Outside, Miami Gardens police, including officers with dogs, augmented security for an establishment that opens its doors from noon to 6 a.m.
A wrist band taken from Bradley in the hospital indicates that he, at least, had been admitted to the Next Level, a semi-private, second-floor area for about 200 people where couches, curtains, and darkened corners are available for patrons to mingle with the club’s employees.
“It’s more secluded, so to speak, for people who don’t want to be in the mix with all the youngsters downstairs,” the manager said.
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